11. Peter: a classic example (1)

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 11. Peter – a classic example (1)

Jn 1:42 Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Mt 16:18   I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 

Moving on:  Not wanting to extend this series unduly, we now move into the New Testament and will take three men to demonstrate something more of this subject of glory coming out of failure. The first of these three is the apostle Peter. Now we have tended to consider these two opposites – failure and glory – as the beginning and end of life but the truth is that our lives are made up of many cameos, short appearances or happenings and they, as individual happenings, can involve failure leading to glory.

The Kaleidoscope of Peter: You know what a kaleidoscope is don’t you, a hand-held instrument that you look into and see multi-shapes and multi-colours and when you tap it they all change. I have to say I think that is what Peter’s life is like as we see it in the Gospels. He meets Jesus and is told he will be changed. He meets Jesus again in Galilee and realises Jesus is something else (Lk 5:8), a failed fisherman (5:5) who became a distraught believer – but a believer!  

Good turning bad: On one hand we think of Peter as the guy who opened his mouth to change feet, but sometimes when he opened his mouth it was to say amazing things, for example, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) or out on the Lake, “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Mt 14:28) Spectacular!

However, in both instances that triumph did not last. In the first case, shortly afterwards Jesus was speaking about his death and, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (16:22) which received the stinging rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (v.23) In the second instance, having stepped out in faith, “when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (14:30,31) You see what I meant about the kaleidoscope of his actions, constant change, good and not so good!

Good Heart, Good Works but Mistaken:  On the mount of Transfiguration we observe Peter the misguided helper: “Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4) When questioned about temple tax, he wrongly defends Jesus (see Mt 17:24 -27) But he’s also the one who wasn’t afraid to ask questions of Jesus: “Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Mt 18:21) On another occasion we find, “Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” (Mt 15:15) but for this is rebuked. Another time, “Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Mt 15:15)

The peak of his bumbling discipleship is seen at the Last Supper. First he refuses to let Jesus wash his feet and then goes overboard on it (Jn 13:6-9) and then later on when Jesus is explaining what will happen Peter comes out with, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” (Mt 26:33) and then, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you,” (v.35) but if we may describe these as examples of bumbling discipleship, a mix of good heart and misguided hopes, what follows is tragic and total failure. His threefold denial can be described as nothing other than calamitous failure.

God’s Grace: We did say earlier in this series that each of these instances reveal something of the wonder of God. No truer is this as in what follows in John 21 after Jesus has been raised from the dead. Without going into it in detail Jesus meets what must be a fearful and defensive Peter, knowing that Jesus knew what he had done (Lk 22:61), and challenges him whether he truly loves him. He confirms strongly that he does and it is at this point that basically Jesus commissions him to lead his church after he leaves them. Amazing! The bumbling total failure is commissioned to lead the new movement! That is grace.

Outworking: We see this being outworked in Acts (72 times his name appears there). He leads the others after Jesus leaves (Acts 1), he speaks out under the anointing of the Spirit and five thousand are saved (Acts 2), he and John heal a lame beggar (Acts 3), he preaches to the authorities (Acts 4), he has an amazing healing presence (see Acts 5:15), he goes with John to Samaria to impart the Spirit to new believers (Acts 8), he heals Aeneas (Acts 9), he preaches to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10), he explains to the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 11),  and so it goes on. What we are not told in Acts, but tradition strongly holds, is that eventually Peter was martyred by crucifixion. A transformed man.

And Us? Peter must be a great encouragement to us for in many ways he portrays so many of us. We bumble along in the faith with good hearts, often misunderstanding what God is doing, often making good proclamations, but often getting it wrong, often asking questions, often wondering how to proceed. And dare we confess we sometimes get it very wrong and yet, and here is the most wonderful thing, God is still there, encouraging us, picking us up when we fall, straightening us out when we get confused and mixed up, loving us when we appear unlovely. That is what Peter shows us, but dare we identify with him at the end of John’s Gospel and declare our love and in this way lay ourselves open to being totally available for the Lord to take us and use us however he will?  Dare we do that? Risk it!   

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s